One reason I was looking forward to last week’s trip to Vegas for CTIA was to see if my newest connectivity plaything — a U300 WiMax/3G USB dongle on loan from Sprint — would actually discover and hook up to the still-being-built Clearwire network in Sin City. If you were following this blog, you know that the historic linkup did take place. What was more impressive to me about the device, however, was the simplicity and robustness of the accompanying software, the Sprint “SmartView” manager.
(Editor’s note: Would the marketing department ever call something the “dumbView”? Just askin’.)
The screen grab above shows the first item of business for SmartView — it looks for a WiMax network. If you’re not in Portland, Ore., right now, the action is sort of like playing slots; you’re hoping for a winner but resigned to the reality that you probably aren’t going to find a 4G network. Though we actually did somehow get connected to the Clearwire Vegas network (more on this later), the seamlessness of the check-for-4G-if-not-then-3G process was incredibly solid, especially for the first rev of any such product. No manual was needed — if WiMax wasn’t around, the software made the decision for you to only attempt a 3G connection.
It might seem like a small thing, but for the savvy business user who is likely to be among the U300’s first customers, knowing exactly what kind of service you are getting is first and foremost — and Sprint has wisely designed its software to work in just that fashion. Such simplicity helps make the buying decision an easy one, or an easier one in any case.
In terms of form factor and performance, I didn’t get to check out the U300’s ability to work while mobile — since we were in essence pirating our way onto the Vegas network, it wouldn’t have been a fair test anyway — but for the several times I was able to connect to WiMax in my room at the lush plush Las Vegas Hilton, the connection was solid and as good as any 3G experience we’ve ever had. There was no problem viewing video, handling large files, etc., and speeds topped out at just over 1 Mbps or slightly lower:
From a physical standpoint, the USB connector flips to pop the card upright — guessing for antenna purposes, but it keeps desktop real estate issues to a minimum by going vertical. There is also a plastic gizmo and an extender cord in the U300 kit to prop it up atop a laptop screen, if you have or need that preference. The only aesthetic problems I had with the USB was that the LED is on the part of the unit that faces away from the keyboard — so you have to kind of peer around the thing to see if it is on. The other nit-pick was that the USB unit seemed to get a tad warm, not really a problem until you go to pull it out from the laptop. No burns to report, but wondering if that is a fix that will be needed.
Overall — it was a pretty impressive performance from a device that is so new to the market, and it worked even when it wasn’t supposed to — to us a sign of good engineering and simple, connect-it-first software. Though we’re not too thrilled with the current pricing and usage plans (there is the usual data cap of 5 Gbytes per month for the 3G service) we are betting those will change as Sprint and Clearwire get more aggressive with their 4G marketing. Our take is that wannbe WiMax warriors could buy this thing now and be future-proofed when WiMax arrives in your town.